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Bush promotes volunteerism at Ohio State commencement

COLUMBUS -- He drew wild applause, four standing ovations, and was called "the most sought-after commencement speaker in America."

President George W. Bush was the guest of honor Friday as 6,600 Ohio State University graduates were given their diplomas.

Bush, himself, got an honorary doctorate in public administration, and drew enthusiastic cheering by proclaiming himself "one of the Class of 2002."

Bush urged the graduating seniors to show their love for their country by getting involved in community service.

"American needs full-time citizens," the president said. "American needs more than taxpayers, spectators and the occasional voter."

He said he hoped the graduates of 2002 would prove the skeptics wrong and show the world that the culture of service and generosity that began after the Sept. 11 attacks in Washington, D.C. and New York is more than a passing fad.

Noting that 70 percent of OSU students are already involved in some form of volunteerism, Bush urged the graduates to make this a part of the rest of their lives.

"I want to make an appeal to your conscience, for the sake of our country," Bush told them."Everyone needs some cause that is higher than his or her own profit. A person who is not responsible for others is truly alone."

The president said that while the government can be part of the solution to many of the country’s ills, it takes people to make the real difference.

"Government can’t fulfill the need for kindness, and understanding, and love," Bush said. "People in crisis often need more than a check or a program."

Bush said many people don’t volunteer because they don’t know what organization might need them. He introduced a new Internet clearinghouse for would-be volunteers.

The new web site, USA Freedom Corps, will have links to approximately 20,000 social service organizations that need volunteers, he said. Those interested may visit the Web site, submit brief personal information and get information about the various organizations.

Bush said he is asking each American to dedicate the equivalent of two years of their lives -- about 4,000 hours -- to community service.

"Through acts of kindness and decency, we will change America one soul at a time," Bush said.

OSU President William Kirwan praised Bush for how he "led and continues to lead our nation in the aftermath of Sept. 11’s horrific attacks."

"America is truly proud of our president," Kirwan said.

In addition to the honorary doctorate the president received, OSU also gave New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner an honorary doctorate in business administration. Gov. Bob Taft also attended the ceremony.

An estimated 45,000 were on hand to see the president and watch the graduates receive their sheepskins.

And, it appeared the president may have brought better weather with him. For most of the early morning, Columbus was under foggy skies that threatened rain. But about a half hour before the president arrived, the sun broke through the clouds and stayed there throughout the commencement.

Bush drew thunderous applause when he mentioned OSU’s win over arch-rival Michigan at Ann Arbor. He also drew applause from parents when he happily pointed out that they now don’t have to write those tuition checks any more.

"That must be nice," Bush quipped. "I’m still writing them." Teresa Moore/The Ironton Tribune